Handwashing has always been a critical component to safe food handling practices in a restaurant or foodservice environment, but the behavior became a topic of constant, worldwide discussion in March 2020. The rapid spread of the pandemic revealed an alarming number of adults in the U.S. (and the world) did not have handwashing integrated into their regular, daily life.
In 2020, campaigns from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with other national and local organizations, rapidly launched to promote this healthy behavior and encourage people at large to adjust their mindsets. These campaigns helped restaurants and other businesses spawn creative signage highlighting statistics or song lyrics to serve as reminders to their employees and customers – with some encouraging success.
ConsumerStyles released some heartening results comparing surveys from 2019 and 2020 showing both men and women reported remembering to wash hands more frequently before eating at home and at a restaurant, and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing their nose than they did in 2019. However, a survey in March 2021 found the habit starting to slide once again. Jim Fields, a health and safety expert with friend of Trust20's InnoServ, says restaurant operators and other business owners can easily mitigate this kind of backslide among their teams:
“Employee training does not need to be complicated. Have managers build brief check-ins into the schedule when workers are coming on shift and make hand washing frequency and duration a point of conversation. At your next staff meeting, breakdown the fine details of safe food handling practices when it comes to handwashing and glove use. Any time you’re communicating with your employees there is an opportunity to mention it.”
In a food handler training course, food service workers learn key times to wash their hands including:
BEFORE: Starting a shift, handling food, and beginning any food-related task
AFTER: Handling raw meat, poultry and seafood, using the bathroom, and touching hair, face, body, or clothing
Handwashing at these and other critical moments not only helps prevent the spread of interpersonal germs, but it also helps mitigate the risk of spreading foodborne illnesses. These safe food handler practices can be used in reminders to food establishment customers as well!
Restaurant operators and managers can stay on top of consumer behaviors by ensuring signage is updated regularly and kept in prominent locations, continuing to provide handwashing and sanitizing stations at the business’ entrance, and with gentle reminders on social media.
Experts stated 2020’s flu season was "strikingly different” as a result of the country's widespread handwashing and social distancing efforts. As we enter the flu season for 2021, food handlers and consumers alike can contribute to a better future, with fewer illnesses in our communities, by committing to keeping up good hand hygiene habits.